As Labour’s lead in the polls narrows to 1-2%, we need to keep our nerve and get our priorities right. The previous Blairite electoral rule was to focus exclusively on middle class marginal seats with a narrow majority on the grounds that working class constituencies were bound to vote Labour if for no other reason than to keep the Tories out. That attitude is exactly wrong. Working class voters do have an option, in fact two of them: they can simply not vote, which is precisely what millions of them did in 2005 and 2010, but in addition this time they have another allurement – UKIP. The real problem for Labour is that for too many working class voters the party doesn’t feel like the Labour party which once represented them and fought for them and with which therefore they strongly identified. Ed Miliband has certainly come up with some resonant themes on energy, Living Wage, banks, etc., but there is a desperate need to join up the threads and pull them together within a strategic framework which makes it indelibly clear what a Labour Government will do – and above all why that will strongly benefit the working class, not just middle Britain which is often a misnomer for the upper middle class.
There are several strong reasons for pursuing this strategy. One is that working class influence in deciding elections is hugely under-estimated. They are the largest class in the country, representing nearly half the electorate, and the most cohesive since the middle class under market pressures has become more fragmented. Second, they have been under continuous attack and feel deeply let down by the Labour party in failing to defend them as they would have expected against Osborne’s austerity, soaring rents, the suppression of trade unions and workplace rights, job-cutting privatisations and outsourcings, and the squeezing of the wage share by out-of-control inequality and rampaging capital. Third, the depredations of this government, arguably even harsher than Thatcher, have produced an enormous groundswell of anger seething just below the surface, but what it lacks is the lead from Labour to transform it into a decisive political force.
Five strategic themes could turn around the slide in the polls. Labour will reverse austerity by public investment to kickstart the economy and reduce the dole queues by a million or more within 2 years. Labour will bring in rent controls to stop rapidly rising, unaffordable rents and by the end of a 5-year term will be building 250,000 houses a year, a third of them social housing. Labour will re-nationalise rail and at least some of the energy companies because of their crucial importance to national security. Labour will ensure workers get a proper say in the company for which they work through enterprise councils and through encouraging the spread of collective bargaining. And Labour will reverse privatisations in the central areas of human welfare, in particular in health, education, housing and pensions.